This interview was first published in Attitude issue 145, May 2006.
Words by Paul Flynn, photography by Laurence James-Thomad
Before Jamie Dornan was the Hollywood A-lister we know today, he was a budding actor and one of the most in-demand male models around. Back in 2006, the then 23-year-old face of Dior Homme was busy making his onscreen debut opposite Kirsten Dunst in Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette - oh, and earning his place as an Attitude cover boy.
From people assuming he's gay to his then-highly publicised break-up with Keira Knightley, nothing was off-limits during Jamie's chat with Attitude, during which he (correctly) labelled his bum as his best asset.
Who know we'd eventually get to see so much more of it ten years later, when the Irishman landed a career-defining role as Christian Grey in the 50 Shades of Grey movie series? To celebrate the second instalment of the trilogy, 50 Shades Darker, hitting screens worldwide this week, we thought we'd have a rummage through the Attitude archives to bring you Mr Dornan's Attitude debut. Enjoy...
Is it quite weird being known as a two dimensional thing?
Yeah. It’s completely odd. It’s ridiculous. Not in a negative way, I don’t think. I do find the whole idea quite funny. It’s a strange world to be involved in, especially if you get lost within it.
Were you the beautiful one when you were growing up?
[Laughing] Yeah, of course I was. No, not at all. I used to be called cute a lot. And I hated the word. I still kind of hate it now. I don’t get it so much anymore but to my sister’s friends and girls I fancied I was always the ‘cute’ one. It snot exactly sexy is it? It used to really annoy me. I used to be skinny and I’ve always looked really young. But I played a lot of rugby and I wanted to be the big jock. It never quite happened. It crazy to think I’ve ended up doing this, to be honest.
We’ve all seen Zoolander.
I know and, fuck me, there are some guys who are doing this who are totally Zoolander about it. You have to pinch yourself sometimes to remind yourself what it is you’re doing because there are people who are exactly like that. I want to be the best at it. I mean, why not? But I don’t take it seriously for one second. There are some guys who prune themselves and love themselves and make out it’s the most important thing. To me it’s a chance to travel the world, to meet the most crazy and amazing people and to get paid to do it. There are guys who look way too far into it and it freaks me out. But it’s weird from my side as well. Because there are no really famous examples of male models that old-fashioned idea of them still stands.
What are the preconceptions about male models?
Friends of my dad will ask him ‘oh, what’s wee Jamie up to know?’ and he’ll say I’m a model in London and the first thing they say is ‘oh, is he gay, then?’ Its big news to people if you’re not. One of the good things about not being gay in the industry is the amount of girls you get to play around with on beaches and stuff. It's not without its perks.
There aren’t actually many models at the top end who are gay, are there?
No, there aren’t really. Which is fairly odd, because pretty much everybody else involved in the fashion industry is!
Did you know you were good at modelling from the outset?
I wasn’t! I was rubbish. My first shoot was for Bliss and I look like I’ve been let out of a lunatic asylum and someone found me and took my picture for no reason. But I quickly learnt to relax into it. The first job of any significance I got was an Abercrombie and Fitch campaign with Bruce Weber.
Tell me about it. I knew nothing about the world of fashion and photography or modelling, but I knew who Bruce Weber was, and I knew exactly how amazing he was. That changed it all for me. If I hadn’t met Bruce Weber I'd probably have ended up doing something else. I went with another lad to meet him in a hotel in Mayfair and he took a few shots of us in an alleyway and I was just overawed. You could just tell by looking at him, being in his presence, how amazing he is at what he does. He’s been so good for me. He’s just one of those men who are so lovely without needing to be. Photo-shoots can be the blandest, most tedious things in the world. They are really painful sometimes. But there’s a reason he gets amazing pictures. He creates it. You’re there. And then he captures it. What a great way to make pictures. I was running around naked in the hills in Santa Barbara, listening to 'Here Comes The Sun', surrounded by other naked people. The environment that he creates just lets you do it. It strange to lose all those inhibitions. The front cover of the quarterly magazine he did for them was me and another guy and a girl in a multicoloured Cadillac, completely naked. I think they’ve had to dull the campaign a bit since then and put clothes on the models, which is a bit boring.
Why don’t you do catwalk?
I’ve never done it. I’ve not been to a show. The whole idea just doesn’t appeal to me. I have a terribly stupid walk and I just don’t think that people need to see it on the catwalk. I did two seasons out in Milan. It wasn’t for want of trying! I just didn’t get booked. I found being surrounded by all these male models competing against each other on one side and a lot of people on drugs on the other, it was all a bit much for me. It was weird and uncomfortable. I hated those 100-man queues for castings.
What do you think your best feature is?
I’ve no idea. My bum? I’ve got a good bum. [Laughs] It looks good in pictures, anyway, and I didn’t think I had one. I was always a bit worried about it being shown. To be honest, I thought it’d look like two eggs in a handkerchief and then I see pictures and I’m quite impressed with it. More impressed than I am when I’m getting changed, anyhow.
Your eyes are incredible.
Thank you. Maybe they’re my best feature. My mum had amazing eyes. She died when I was 16. And my dad’s quite an attractive man. A lot of my girlfriends had a bit of a thing for my dad.
That’s tragic about your mum.
Yeah, it’s pretty shit. But these things happen and you have to get on with life. I have two older sisters and one of them lives with me now in London. She’s a fashion designer and she’s awesome. My other sisters great, too, but she’s back home and married with kids. It was a young age for it to happen but it’s made me a lot stronger. It’s probably made me a bit more confident.
Tell me about the Dior Homme campaign.
It’s so strange. I mean, Hedi [Slimane, head of Dior Homme] is taking over the world. Musically, he has every cool band in the world dressed head to toe in his stuff and it has genuinely begun a whole movement, a whole aesthetic. It's funny to be the figurehead of the fragrance because I don’t really embody what the movement represents. When I think of what he represents I think if a very different type of model to me.
Isn’t that the genius of getting you to do it, though? It extends the brand beyond that skinny boy in the pencil denims, the whole Pete Doherty rock ‘n’ roll dream?
I guess. I don’t really know. I love the smell of it, I must say. I’ve got it on now. My dad wears it. It 's something I’m personally very proud of it. I think it looks really cool. David Sims shot it. I mean, a legend. And Hedi. You know, these things can make you quite proud.
You just completed the new Calvin Klein campaign with Kate Moss. Were you nervous about working with her?
She was brilliant to work with. I hadn’t met her before, so of course there was a level of nervousness, but I feel much more confident about what I do now too. She’s been doing this for so many years and is basically in a league of one when it comes to models’ profiles. I mean, to be able to maintain that level of intrigue and interest is amazing.
Can you see yourself together?
In an advert, for sure [laughs]. That’s what they booked us for. It’s an iconic thing to do, isn’t it? A Calvin Klein ad with Kate Moss? What straight boy wouldn’t dream of that?
Do you get embarrassed seeing yourself on billboards?
It’s quite funny, really. I was stood on the corner of Houston and Prince in New York once and looked up and there was a billboard of me being bitten on the bum by Natalia Vodonova for a Calvin Klein campaign. There was a horrified American couple telling one another not to look up next to me and I didn’t think of telling them it was me.
How did Marie Antoinette happen?
It’s amazing. First film, Sofia Coppola. You can’t really complain can you? She’s the coolest person I’ve ever met. She just defines it. And hat whole coolness is just exaggerated so much by knowing how good she is at what she does. It was amazing. We finished shooting last May. I’m going to Cannes to see it and Hedi’s going to make me a suit for it. It happened pretty much through Bruce Weber, in a weird way. Bruce always wanted me to act from the first time i met him. Sofia told him she was struggling to cast this one role in her film and she suggested me to a casting agent she knows in New York. I read for in London. Then I went to Paris and that night I had dinner with Sofia and Ross Katz, the producer, and... You know, this was absolute dream stuff.
Was acting always an ambition?
I did have a vague plan to go to drama school when i first came to London but then the modelling took off. There’s acting in the family. My great aunt, Greer Garson, still holds the record for the longest-ever Oscar acceptance speech. Of course my ex-girlfriend was an actress and I've spent a lot of time on film sets. I was comfortable there. But it’s very strange being in a trailer and someone come ins and says ‘Jamie, we’re ready for you now’ rather than for her...
Can we talk about Keira?
How long were you together for?
Two and a half years.
Did you ever feel like her arm candy?
There were times when... yeah, sometimes you do feel like a plus-one. At the end of the day I still worked and through the times I was with Keira I did some of the best stuff I’ve ever done. It might not seem like this from the outside necessarily but from within it was very much: she’s a girl who’s good at what she does and I’m a guy and I’m good at what I do. It worked in that way. I honestly just tried to see it as normal thing. She was 18, 19. I was young, too. I’d never had a relationship that had lasted more than four months before. Day one of month five, a button would switch and everything stopped. Until Keira.
Are you pals now?
She was good on the Oscars, I thought. I always found her a bit uptight before but she seems to be growing into herself...
[Laughing] What, since she dumped me? No, she is a very funny girl.
Has there been anyone since?
It’s only been since Christmas. No. Two and a half years is a big thing for me to go and delve into something else. She’s managed to do it, I think... but I’m not, I’ve never really chatted people up. Keira was the first person I chatted up. We did an Asprey campaign together and I just completely fancied her before I met her and so when I found out I was working with her I thought I’d just seize the opportunity. I’m quite excited by being able to chat people up now but I am still so shy when it comes to women and al that kind of stuff. I’m enjoying the single thing, though.
How do you stop it all going to your head?
It still doesn’t seem that real. Because all that’s happening really is that people are taking my picture because they think I’m going to sell their product. Of course I know that there’s more to it than that. But I would never let it go to my head because my real world is still very much the same as it was before I started doing all this.
Will the idea of a male supermodel ever exist?
No. I don’t think it needs to. The idea of little girls aspiring to be Kate Moss or Naomi Campbell is a nice idea, but the idea of little boys aspiring to be Will Chalker or me is just weird. I wouldn't want anyone to aspire to be like me, to be honest. Boys have footballers and rock stars.
You don’t get many little girls wanting to grow up to be Courtney Love.
No, maybe not. I just don’t think it’ll happen. Will Chalker is as big in male modelling as some girls who are considered to be supermodels are but he is not talked about in that way. We just don’t need a male supermodel.